Lexington Meta 3 – Politics, as Usual

Pressing issues

The Herald-Leader cut through the competition like a hot knife through butter at the Kentucky Press Association (KPA) awards last Friday. The paywalled publication pulled down 32 individual awards for things like “Best Headline Writer” (Editor Peter Baniak for a pun about the deadly Eastern Kentucky floods) and “Best Editorial Writer” (Linda Blackford), and even took home the “Top Newspaper” award for its division, besting the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Bowling Green Daily News.

The actual headline that won the Lexington Herald-Leader “Best Headline Writer”, which is a real category in the Kentucky Press Association awards. The headline is a pun about the deadly Eastern Kentucky floods where 44 people died. (Not satire, this is really the winner of the category, which is also really a category)

Here’s the rub, though. The Kentucky Press Association is pretty strict on who they will give a vote. While online publications are technically allowed to join, because why turn down new membership dues, online publications have no voting privileges in the Kentucky Press Association. In order to become a full member of KPA, a publication must not only hold a pricey “periodicals class mailing permit”, a throwback to the old days before wi-fi, but must also pay an annual subscription fee to the Association.

So, essentially, the KPA is just a paywalled awards show where all the old-timey newspapers in the state give themselves medals?

Lexington Herald-Leader Editor and General Manager Pete Baniak receives the the Kentucky Press Association’s “Best Newspaper” award from Lexington Herald-Leader Editor and General Manager Pete Baniak on behalf of the Lexington-Herald Leader. (Artist depiction)

Blackford goes south

Following their big wins, Kentucky’s Top Newspaper* sent Kentucky’s Best Editorial Writer* (Linda Blackford) and Kentucky’s Best Photojournalist (Ryan Hermens, who swept first place in Best Video, Best General News Picture, and Best Picture Essay at the KPA awards) out on the hunt for a juicy investigative report last week.

According to the award-winning Blackford, several of Kentucky’s GOP candidates for governor were spreading exaggerated tales of woe from the southern border. Kelly Craft, for example, recently stated that, “Joe Biden and Andy Beshear are ignoring the border crisis,” and allowing criminals and fentanyl to flood into Kentucky.

Blackford’s earth-shattering scoop: Craft and other GOP hopeful like Ryan Quarles and Daniel Cameron were not simply making statements like these in order to fan the flames of xenophobia and curry political favor with bigots. No, dear reader, the award-winning editorial writer managed to sus out what everyone else somehow missed: They weren’t talking about the US border with Mexico, they were actually just talking about the Kentucky-Tennessee border all along!

Blackford and Hermens hopped into what I have to assume is a Prius and took a drive to Albany, Kentucky in Clinton County. When they arrived, they dismounted at the Kentucky-Tennessee border to check for caravans of rapists and fentanyl. Hermens snapped a photo to document the investigation.

Award-wining editorial writer Linda Blackford discusses the crisis at the southern border. Blackford was joined by award-winning photographer Ryan Hermens on the roadtrip. There is already buzz that this photo is a leading contender for a 2023 KPA award. (https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/linda-blackford/article271921007.html)

Blackford goes on to write 1,500 words highlighting how Southern Kentucky voters continue to vote for Republicans even though they’re facing difficult situations in their communities like crumbling infrastructure, economic hardships, and opioid addiction concerns.

Craft has tons of support down here on the southern border, partly because it’s close to counties like Barren, her home, to Monroe, home of major backer and Congressman Jamie Comer and the senate district of her running mate, the widely popular Max Wise.

Although fentanyl is not brought in through illegal immigration but by drug traffickers, …. Clinton County is a kind of flash point in that discussion, too, thanks to former county coroner Steve Talbott, who owns Talbott Funeral Home (where Mayor Steve Lawson happens to work because this is, after all, a small town.)

Award-winning editorial writer Linda Blackford takes a shot at rural Clinton County.

In the paragraphs following the above quote, Blackford throws multiple dunks on the small town of Albany and its leaders over the community’s opioid problems. Yeah! That will show them, Linda 🙄

The only issue? Blackford was referencing a situation that occurred between 2006 and 2012 when she discussed Clinton County’s opioid crisis. In fact, Clinton County reported fewer than 5 fatal overdoses in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available. So don’t worry, the Clinton County Coroner isn’t making bank on the opioid crisis.

Blackford doesn’t say how much time she and Hermens actually spent in Clinton County, but she wraps it up by taking a subtle jab at a retiree whose husband drives an hour and a half to Tennessee for work.

She’s working to create an arts community in Albany, which she says she can do partly because she retired. And partly because her husband still works. About an hour and a half away in Tennessee.

Linda Blackford describes

Blackford’s column not only demonstrates her lack of understanding of rural Kentucky (wHy WoUlD yOu LiVe SoMeWhErE wItH No JoBs?!?🤷🏼‍♀️) but also her willingness to use the people there as political props.

Yes, Linda, rural Kentucky votes overwhelmingly for GOP politicians who often promote policies harmful to rural communities, but come on, poverty-shaming and condescension from a big city paper isn’t going to do much to change their minds. If anything, Blackford’s column will just lead to confirmation bias in the culture wars there.

The entire column comes off as a poorly conceived partisan hit job on the GOP that doesn’t offer anything in the way of constructive solutions. Rural Kentucky just got caught in the crossfire.

Blackford doubles down

Blackford wasn’t done, though. She followed up her southern border column with an even more stomach-churning piece where she criticized GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Craft’s use of the opioid crisis as a political prop. Now, dear reader, Blackford’s issue wasn’t that Craft was using the crisis as a prop, her issue seemed to be that Craft wasn’t correctly using the crisis to score cheap political points.

Check out Blackford’s breakdown of what Craft missed out on by not playing along with a recent LEX18 ambush journalism story:

There could have been a beautiful, emotional, unscripted moment on the campaign trail, recorded by the diligent [sic] Sayer, who instead caught another gaffe. Two missed opportunities — the correct and compassionate thing to do, and sheer campaign gold for a candidate with all the money in the world but poor name recognition.

Linda Blackford (https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/linda-blackford/article272064177.html)

Here’s one of the protestors a disappointed Blackford thought could have provided Craft with “a beautiful, emotional, unscripted moment on the campaign trail.”

An emotional protestor who attempted to confront Kelly Craft at a recent campaign event. (LEX18)

Yeah… Something tells me that we would not have witnessed a”beautiful” moment if that lady had been allowed to confront Craft at her own event–“emotional” and “unscripted”, sure.

While a messy confrontation would have created more viral political hay for the likes of LEX18 and Blackford, it would have done nothing to promote constructive discussion of solutions to the opioid crisis. Let’s face it, though: Blackford and the Herald-Leader don’t actually give a damn about the human cost of the opioid crisis, they see its victims as props they can roll out for clicks and to score cheap political points against anyone who doesn’t fit into their ever narrowing Center-Left worldview.

Here’s an idea, maybe next time they could just wheel in a corpse? That would definitely provide the “emotional, unscripted moment on the campaign trail” Blackford yearned for.

Lexington will soon begin receiving money from several opioid lawsuits, and a massive conversation needs to happen around how to use it. Perhaps instead of exploiting family members of overdose victims for political pot shots, our local media should be leading a discussion on practical ways to use the forthcoming funds for maximum effectiveness.

What if the Herald-Leader had stayed home in Lexington and interviewed recovery advocate David Royse instead of going to the Tennessee border? They could have learned about his plan to save thousands of lives by providing addicts with safe medication until they are ready to quit. Royse has been traveling all over the state spreading his message.

Royse’s plan has received support from several mainstream politicians, but our local media institutions continue to ignore him.

David Royse poses with the Lieutenant Governor and his SOS quilt honoring overdose victims. (David Royse, Facebook)
Recovery advocate David Royse poses with his SOS quilt honoring overdose victims. (David Royse, Facebook)

It’s worth pointing out that Lexington’s Center-Right Mayor Linda Gorton, who Blackford and the Herald-Leader enthusiastically endorsed for reelection, refused to even meet with Royse and is a staunch opponent of his potentially life-saving plan.

The more progressive David Kloiber, a 2022 Lexington mayoral candidate who Blackford’s Editorial Board condescendingly dismissed without any real consideration, not only met with Royse, but endorsed his plan.

David Kloiber poses with David Royse’s “Stop the drug war” sign. (David Royse, Facebook)

Politics, as usual.

Lexington Meta is a weekly column that examines happenings and events that may have gone unnoticed in Lexington. If you have a suggestion for a future column, please email editor@lexingtonky.news.